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5 Takeaways: Joe Hortiz on Bolts Salary Cap Crunch, Trading Keenan Allen

5T 03.21

Joe Hortiz met with reporters for 30 minutes in a roundtable session Thursday afternoon at Hoag Performance Center.

Here are five takeaways from the Chargers General Manager:

1. Navigating the salary cap

Hortiz knew the salary cap situation he was walking into when he took the this job almost two months ago.

The Bolts were way over the 2024 salary cap, even when that number came in at a surprising $255.4 million.

And with four veterans players — Keenan Allen, Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack and Mike Williams — all accounting for significantly high cap hits, Hortiz knew the odds are keeping all four were slim.

"We had four great players with great contracts in terms of great volume, great money," Hortiz said. "We had to address that and we approached it in the sense of we respect all four players, value all four players and know that all four players can help us win.

"But the reality of it is, given the cap and the situation that we're in the likelihood of all four players coming back and us being able to build depth and a complete team, that wasn't a realistic end result," Hortiz continued. "We were going to have to make moves and we weren't locked in to any two players throughout the process.

"Work with them and their representation and see if we can come to some deals and to keep the roster as tight as we can, keep as much talent as we can while also being able to build depth and think about the future success of this roster," Hortiz added.

Hortiz said the general thought was that the Bolts could end up keeping two of those four players with the hope of keeping three of them.

The final number ended up being two as Bosa and Mack restructured their contracts while Allen was traded and Williams was released.

We'll get into those specific moves below, but the main portion of Hortiz's availability was him mapping out his vision for the Chargers for both the 2024 season and beyond.

The goal, Hortiz said, is to field a strong roster from one to 53 each season. Having too many bloated contracts makes that difficult.

"You can keep punting money but then you hurt your depth, you hurt your depth for signing quality depth pieces," Hortiz said. "And you hurt your flexibility going forward. Our goal is to be as flexible as we can every year. We've got a quarterback that makes a lot of money and that's why you have to be cap conscious.

"It's fun to go all in one year … I'd like to be all in every year," Hortiz added. "I want to have a chance to compete for Super Bowls every year."

Hortiz said Thursday that he was in constant communication with the four players' representation the past few weeks.

And if it seemed like the Bolts went down to the wire in terms of their decision making, that's because an almost entirely new coaching staff needed time to evaluate the current roster.

Throw in possible trade dialogue with other teams and that's why the Chargers made a flurry of moves over a three-day span last week.

"You need the coaches to come in and assess the roster as it is and get to know what they want and value the players," Hortiz said. "We were able to do that and once we kind of assessed what they wanted, who fits, what types of players beyond our roster that they'd be interested in, you start having discussions with the players.

"All that happened and the representation, we started talking to them before the Combine and teams inquired about all four players in different levels before the Combine. Those conversations continued but 31 other teams were out there watching us to see which players we were going to part ways with because they understood what we were doing," Hortiz continued. "We had a cap number we had to get to, so there's patience on their side, there's patience on the players we're discussing and they're not in a rush to get anything done because they're kind of watching what we do too.

"So we're having dialogue, moves happen when they happen and the deals happen when they happen. It's not like they start that day and it happens, especially a restructure," Hortiz added. "That's a conversation that is an ongoing conversation. You try multiple avenues to go down and you find the one that works or maybe not works."

In the end, Hortiz made moves that didn't mean all four players were gone while also giving the Chargers ample cap space for 2024 and in future years.

"You don't want to push too much money into the following year," Hortiz said. "It's like your credit card, you max this credit card, you got another one. You max this one, well I need to pay this one and you can't write a credit check, those checks you get when you get a credit card, and pay that one off.

"You got to pay the piper at some point," Hortiz added. "You have that opportunity but that's a slippery slope to go down because then you end up chasing it every year."

The Los Angeles Chargers, in partnership with Blessings in a Backpack and Verizon, hosted Verizon employees and Bolts Community Crew volunteers to pack 1,000 bags of food that will be distributed to Grape Street Elementary School students. Chargers Running Back Elijah Dotson and Chargers Legend and Assistant OL Coach Nick Hardwick joined the volunteers Saturday morning to pack and store the food at Hoag Performance Center.

2. The Keenan Allen trade

Of the four major moves Hortiz made, trading Allen to the Bears certainly made the biggest headlines.

The Chargers traded the six-time Pro Bowler last week for a 2024 fourth-round pick (No. 110 overall).

Allen is second in franchise history with 904 catches and 10,530 yards, and could have passed Antonio Gates in both categories with another strong season in 2024.

That didn't make it easy for Hortiz to move a player who was, at the time, the longest-tenured Charger on the roster.

"Yeah, I knew who I was trading," Hortiz said. "He's a very talented player and I respect him as a player, as a person. It's difficult when you have to cut a player, trade a player, release a player.

"It's always difficult for a player like him certainly, but it creates an opportunity for other players to step up," Hortiz continued. "Again, we're not done building that room out so we're going to look to continue to add pieces to that room.

"I think when you're talking about trading Keenan specifically, yeah that's not a decision you make with no acknowledgment of, 'This is a talented player that can still compete,'" Hortiz added.

Hortiz noted that the Chargers approached Allen and his reps with "multiple different options and just none of them worked out."

As a result, the Bolts freed up a big chunk of cap space in 2024 while also adding extra draft capital and giving the Chargers front office extra flexibility both now and later in the calendar year.

"It created unique cap space. Remember, we got a draft pick," Hortiz said. "You have to budget a budget off to the side for Injured Reserve, in-season signings. It gives us flexibility.

"I know in the past there haven't been a lot of additions during the season with trades but that's something I believe in," Hortiz added. "If you have a chance to trade for a good player midseason that helps your team win this year, and you can potentially extend and create value for going forward, I think you have to give yourself that flexibility going forward."

As for Williams, he was released on March 13 and eventually signed with the Jets.

"We talked to Mike after we released Mike," Hortiz said. "He knew there was interest on our part."

3. Keeping Mack and Bosa

And after the dust settled, the two of those four players that remained on the roster were Mack and Bosa, both of whom restructured their contracts going forward.

Hortiz praised both veterans for their willingness to rework their deals and help free up additional money for the Chargers to go after free agents.

He added that he recently chatted with both players, with both expressing their desire to play for Chargers head Coach Jim Harbaugh.

"I've been here for six weeks and this place is pretty cool. This organization is great. It really is. This is a destination place," Hortiz said. "Being around Jim, guys are communicating with him. They want to be here. It shows me they want to be here.

"We certainly did what we did with them and they certainly gained things on there end, too. It was a win-win for both of us," Hortiz added. "I had conversations with Joey prior to it and I talked to Khalil after. You know how much they want to be here and that's exciting to me. We want to bring great players in here so they can see it."

The hope, of course, is that Bosa and Mack team up to be a force that we've only seen glimpses of the past two seasons.

Mack has 25.0 sacks in the 34 regular-season games he's started since arriving via trade in the spring of 2022.

But Bosa has battled injuries, tallying just 9.0 sacks in 14 games over the past two seasons.

"I will say this: I'm verry happy we were able to get something done with Khalil and Joey," Hortiz said. "I expect that they will help our defense tremendously. I know that when they have been on the field together that offenses have to account for them.

"How do they help our offense? They give the offense the ball back quicker. They give Justin [Herbert] another series," Hortiz added. "The team helps the team, it's not individual players. That's why you want to be as a strong as you can across the board."

4. Ravens connections in free agency

The Bolts have added seven free agents who weren't on the Chargers roster in 2023.

A trio of them — running back Gus Edwards, center Bradley Bozeman and tight end Hayden Hurst — were all with Hortiz when he was in the Ravens front office.

That fit, Hortiz said, was a natural one.

"All three of those guys, I know what we're getting with them," Hortiz said.

He raved about Edwards, who ran for 810 yards and scored 13 touchdowns in 2023 and is now in line to be the Bolts top running back.

"I think specifically with Gus, I've seen him deal with the adversity of the [ACL] injury two years ago and come back from it," Hortiz said. "Grind, be physical, continue to play the same brand of football he's always played. Really excited to have him.

"He's the bell cow, the goal line [guy], the finisher," Hortiz added. "The right mentality for what we're looking to do here. I told you we wanted to be bigger, play a physical style of football on both sides of the ball and he helps us do that."

Hurst (first round) and Bozeman (sixth round) were part of the same 2018 draft class in Baltimore.

"Bradley and Hayden are the same way [as Edwards]," Hortiz said. "I do my best to get to get to know the players and those are two I knew pretty well from my time in Baltimore.

"Feel very fortunate that the situation presented itself to get both those guys," Hortiz added. "You get two quality players that know our scheme, that fit our scheme and that fit the mentality."

Hortiz was also asked about Hurst's health after he suffered a scary concussion last season but deemed him "good to go."

5. A look at the 5th pick

We're five weeks away from the start of the 2024 NFL Draft, which will be held April 25-27 in Detroit.

The Chargers currently hold the No. 5 pick, one of nine total selections the Bolts have.

And while Hortiz's focus has mostly been on free agency of late, he also said he's aware the draft is just over a month away.

As for a possible trade scenario, Hortiz said all options are on the table when it comes to where the Bolts eventually end up picking.

"We'll see how it goes. It's still early and the phone is not ringing yet because were still a month or so out," Hortiz said. "But I've had teams ask me and are gauging my interest. Certainly, as I said before, I'm open to all options when it comes to the draft. I'm not locked into any one spot — forwards, backwards, staying right there."

One aspect that could help the Bolts is that there is always the possibility that quarterbacks could dominate the first handful of picks.

That would mean a potential trade back with a quarterback-needy team, or that a blue-chip player at a premium position falls to the Chargers at No. 5.

The Bolts, of course, have zero need for a starting quarterback with Herbert inked to a long-term contract.

"It's a unique year and there are really good quarterbacks. It's a great quarterback year, it really is," Hortiz said. "You look at the guys and everyone is saying there could be six quarterbacks in the first round and that's fair. That really is.

"It's a unique year. It could create some opportunity for us but we'll see how the draft unfolds," Hortiz added.

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